tv This Week in Northern California PBS November 26, 2011 1:30am-2:00am PST
captioning by vitac, underwritten by fireman's fund captioning by vitac, underwritten by fireman's fund what will it take to fix a broken state? californians are searching for ways to end partisan wrangling and to make government actually work. >> too much time bickering and arguing. they don't get anything done. >> there are some new ideas on the table. tonight, mending broken california.
good evening and welcome to broken california, a special edition of "this week in northern california." i'm spencer michels sitting in for belva davis. the recent elections in california will be followed by a dose of political realty. the crucial relationship between local and state governments. tonight we'll explore why california's government is so dysfunctional and what can be done to fix it. we have a panel of people who should know. susan kennedy a democrat was governor schwarzenegger's chief of staff. don perata led the state senate for four years. dan schnur is a republican strategist and teaches at usc. and mark paul is an author of "california crackup." we'll be back with our guests? a few minutes but first a look of some of what ails the state.
there is not much disagreement that government is failing. >> the people are frustrated because the state government, the structure does not work. it doesn't work the way that people expect it to work. >> and it may be about to get worse because revenues are $700 million below expectations. under a compromise budget that was already cut to the bone, additional cuts could be automatically triggered further threatening state services. schools are in bad shape and teachers are being laid off. colleges and universities are feeling the squeeze. prisons remain overcrowded. health programs for poor have been cut back, fixing those problems should fall to the state legislature and the governor.
but as in washington, sacramento is the uc in a pattern of partisan wrangling, wrangling the public seems eager to see end. sacramento bee political columnist dan walters has been covering the state capitol for 40 years. >> the inability to balance the budget and it reflects people's general unhappiness with the economy and their lives, i guess in california these days. there is a tendency to blame those in political power when that happens. >> the result, walters says is cynicism about what happens at the state capitol. >> too much time bickering and arguing. they don't get anything done. >> you have two sides that are trying to one-upmanship then it things don't get done. >> some fed up with the
political paralysis are coming up with their own way to solve problems. a billionaire with family ties to california put up $20 million to fund a bipartisan reform panel called think long. >> california reflects what is happening in washington. you've got two sides that have a difficult time agreeing on very much. and it's so partisan that at the end you almost wonder how a citizen serves. >> he says his panel which includes former governor gray davis and former u.s. secretary of state condoleeza rice will propose far-reaching but undisclosed reforms dealing with the budget, the tax system, education and the initiative process. dan schnur, one of our panelists gets students to take up the issues in a class he teaches as usc. "california crackup" co authored by a another of our panelists,
mark paul offers prescriptions for the state's ills. this gathering in june by the people what's next california organized by mcneil air productions brought 400 citizens together figure out what's wrong california and how to fix it. >> you can vote the bums out of office and into office. the authority lies with the voters. >> the group was asked to deliberate about several topics including term limits to force politicians out of office. >> the term limits say you are not intelligent enough to pick your people. if i have a guy who is honest and capable i don't want to be told i can't vote for him again. >> a full-time versus a part-time legislature. >> i like part-time. i don't think the full-time ones are listening. i think they are doing part-time already.
>> proposition 13, the california law that keeps property taxes low and other taxes hard to pass, a law that remains popular. and the requirement that two-thirds of legislators must approve any new taxes. jim fishkin polled the conference attendees. >> there was a concern for governability the two-thirds vote threshold was paralyzing action. so taxes are the hardest issue but people were finding new ways of thinking about how to make the system work. >> another hot topic? california's initiative process a form of democracy where citizens or special interests propose initiatives to the voters. >> i think the initiative process is important because the people need to have a say in what's going on. >> what's gone wrong with the
process that we are now at a point of saying we have to create initiatives to finally go get a vote on this because the legislators are not voting on it or bringing up what's gone wrong there. >> others say it promotes spending without raising revenues and is controlled by special interests. nicholas berggruen ironically plans to finance his own ballot measures so californians can vote on the reforms his group reposes. >> the goal is to go beyond special interests and parties and come up with a compromise that benefits all. and because the initiative process you can do something in california that you probably can't as easily in washington. >> but in the past, voters despite their unhappiness with government have quashed reform proposals. but still citizens and politicians alike are under more pressure than ever to fix a broken state.
>> there is at least one reform ballot measure already in the works but it's not the first time people have tried to tackle these problems. susan kennedy let's start with you. does it make sense for the people to try to make these reforms especially after your experience with governor schwarzenegger and not making as many reforms as you wanted? >> the people have to be involved in the reform effort. but what they don't like is when the legislature fails to do its job and puts all questions to the voters and can't compromise. the voters get angry and reject the reforms out of hand. i think there is a limit to the kind of reform they are willing to do. >> what was it like in the schwarzenegger administration when you were trying to get some of these reforms through? >> first of all, california is on the front page of the national news because we have a budget crisis that is bigger and
harder to solve than this almost any other state and harder than some countries. but when you look at the reform report card even during the recession we did compensation reform, climate change, the significant water package, the largest infrastructure package in a generation, welfare reform, redistricting, budget reform four times we passed budget reforms. >> you are saying there's no crisis? >> no i'm saying don't look at california as broken to its core simply because we have a terrible budget crisis. we have one of the most broken tax systems in the country and it causes the budget crisis. fixing is it a problem because of the political system. we changed the primary system. we changed the districts. that's going to be the most significant reform in california in generations because it will change the -- change the special interest grip on our legislature and make our elected officials
more afraid of the voters in a general election than of a primary fight. >> don perata as a democrat you were in these meetings with susan kennedy and governor schwarzenegger. it still isn't fixed despite the list that susan mentioned there is a lot wrong. the partisan wrangling or something more fundamental. ? >> we have partisanship when it doesn't make sense. we are a bank on the left and a bank on the right. i think you try to get something done globally, that is a big master solution you are going to get nowhere. i would look at simple things that could be done. if we can get civic mindedness back in the conversation. let's say we are going to save the uc system which is in trouble and could be lost. if we can agree on the left and right that we are not going to cut their budget any more you
are acting away from your own self interest and to a more common interest. >> can you do that? >> why not? >> it costs money. >> what would happen if all the special interests stood up and said this is a priority. this is what we want to get done. everybody will tell you the reason we have an innovative state is because of the educational system. it is going away pretty soon. and with elections ban television advertisements. we did that with cigarettes because they are a danger to your health. we can use the same theory. if you are not allowed to put 25 or $30 million on tv to pass an initiative what would you do? >> it's not going to happen. >> why not? >> because there are a lot of television stations that would miss the revenue. >> but they get minimum -- they get maximum money from us. we are cheap from the beginning to the end.
my point is this if we are going to treat the voters like intelligent people we cannot allow the use of things that undermine that. big money drives the entire system whether you like it or not it's a fact. i want to turn to mark paul next. in your book you say it has been worse in the past. if you go through the history of the country people were always at logger heads. maybe we are not in a contentious time. >> we are in a contentious time. the difficulty in california is that the system is not set up to allow us to make decisions during a contentious time. we do not allow the majority in california to govern. we had an election in last november.
in california the voters picked a democrat to be a governor and to run the legislature but when they got to sacramento in january the first thing they had to do was reach agreement with the people the voters just rejected. california doesn't work because we boxed in the legislature with the super majority requirements and spending mandates and this inflexible initiative process on top of it. >> the super majority is important. the republicans get blamed a lot for blocking things that the majority of democrats want to get through, especially taxes. do the republicans deserve that blame? >> this is a perennial part of the political debate. if you remember in washington when the republicans controlled the senate and trent lott and his allies were angry because the senate was not confirming the president's judgments. they were talking about the blocking of the majority to enact its will. but what susan talked about represents a more important set
of reforms. that is the redistricting reform that we will see in action next year with competitively drawn districts and a top three primary which creates more competition. senator me are that is right the legislators have to work to a common interest. but that is a deceptively simple goal in a legislature where the overwhelming majority of members are designed to election the most conservative republicans and liberal democrats. i remember thinking to myself that he will be the loneliest post partisan in sacramento. because governor schwarzenegger occupy the space close to the political 50 yard line and most of the legislators in both sides
tend to occupy the ideological end zones. if you have a reasoned nuanced conversation with someone 100 yards away it is not easy. if you bring 10, 12, 14 people to sacramento people from both parties as a result of the redistricting you provide governor brown or governor schwarzenegger or a future governor with allies who can move forward. >> it's interesting to think -- >> in usc we are using these football analogies now. >> i have to challenge something that mark said. i think the super majority is only the biggest problem if you think that raising taxes is the only answer. the fact is that it's because of the super majority that's required to raise taxes or any spending measure that we manage to get many of the reforms that we achieved even though we don't talk about them and we're -- they are being undone in some
cases. but the ideological split in the legislature is so severe that without that requirement to negotiate with the other side you don't get well drafted pieces of legislation. i think it's an ugly process but i don't think it's be all and end all. >> i didn't hear an answer to the question, aren't the republicans, perhaps, responsible for this mess because they won't achieve any taxes and you said -- >> that's only if you believe that raising taxes is the only answer. >> but that's not the only thing that the two-thirds applies to. it applies to changing the school funding guarantee. the voter mandate supplied to things like the reform measures in 2009. everybody in sacramento would have been happy to have passed that budget in february 2009, but the lottery couldn't be changed. the mental health system couldn't be changed. the other things that that had to go back to the voters because of an inflexible initiative process.
that is -- you know as much part as -- >> i apologize if it sounded like i was not answering your question. the point i'm trying to make is a minority party the republicans in the legislature in current day or the democrats in the senate some years ago have shared responsibility for governance. and whether it's taxes or the other types of changes that mark is talking about, whether it's judicial appointments, an effective governing process brings in members of both parties which is why the redistricting -- quick on that. governor brown, principle centrist democrat proposes a budget solution that involves allowing the californians to vote on the tax increase and pension reforms. one party, the republicans said no to the vote on taxes.
democrats said absolutely no to the reforms on pension. you bring in a coalition of people who can cluster around the center with a well-meaning governor and you begin to break the log jam we are talking about. >> i want to hear from don perata a minute. moving forward in terms of solving some of these problems. redistricting reapportionment will that make a difference? >> i think the most significant problem that has to be corrected is term limits. people are elected for narrow periods of time and they are lawmakers. and they make a lot of silly laws. but the problem is there is no time in grade. we don't have staff now in sacramento that's worthy of the responsibilities we expect them to have. as long as we have people who do not understand the mr. equal process and are not moved by a broader understanding of government, it's over. you can't do it.
and you know in 2006 we passed $40 billion in bonds in legislature all required republican votes. they weren't tax increases but republicans were voting to spend money. we got them because we got a coalition of interests from home builders to business people to the labor movement to work on the problem. it's not impossible but everybody has to be pulling the same direction. you're going to see a continuing demise of strong legislative leaders in the future. because the only way a legislator can lead is if people want to be led and right no they don't. >> i have to agree for what don just said about term limits. and now i think it's one of the worst things we have done the california. we have weakened our leadership structure in the legislature so
much through term limits that the special interests have complete authority to really rule the houses. >> how do they do that? >> because the -- their members are more afraid of being opposed in a primary by an sciu or cta who have the ability to take them out many a primary than anything that a leader can do to them. >> so we have term limits and we've got proposition be 13 and two-thirds requirement. those are all as they describe them, the third rails of california politics. how do you change those things? >> i'm, again, if you are behind by seven runs in the first inning you do a few things, small things to get it done. and even that's difficult. we tried to get rid of some state departments and agencies when arnold was governor and i was pro-tem. and we couldn't get the votes on left or right to get that done because of the special interests.
and the special interests don't -- we're not talking about big oil and big business we're talking about anybody who comes together with a single-minded purpose. there is a ton of them in sacramento. >> mark you laid out in the book many reforms that you think would work. give us one or two that would be achievable, please. >> starting off by talking about achievable limits the conversation. in california we are good at reforms that are achievable. and that is precisely how we have gotten where we are in california. we have piled well-intentioned reform on well-intentioned reform on a winchester mystery house of a government. and next year we will see many more proposes to add new rooms and annexes. we have to think about thousand to govern this huge state in
this modern era and create a government that fits who we are. polarized, partisan, ethically diverse with many regions that are separate from one another. we have to have a founding in california. that's a hard thing to do. >> that's what nicholas berggruen is trying to do. >> no. >> they are -- >> they are trying to do incremental reform. what we need to do is what the founders of the united states did how do you design a government that works. >> they tried a constitutional convention in the last year and it failed for lack of any money and the people distributing initiatives. >> the people with the money are going to make the rules. look at the people and think
long and move forward first of all they are self appointed important people. and whether you agree with them or disagree with them that's not a cross section of california. jerry brown did something this year it's the bellwether of the future. we will see more responsibility being pushed back on local government. maybe not the funding source but the responsibility and that's going to require a great amount of change because you walk out of your front door and will the be staring you in the face. >> where do we go from here, dan? >> i think mark paul is a smart guy but i disagree on his last point which i don't think you need to tear the structures down and start from scratch. going back to a point we were discussing earlier if you can create a body in sacramento that
reflects the ideological diversity of the state's population, left, right, and center you break the gridlock that senator me are that was talking about earlier. this state's greatest advantage over the years is its geography and diversity. a global economy presents opportunities for the state. we have the base of one party that is anti-trade and one that is anti-immigration. until you compliment those with a representation in the center california can't take advantage of the economic opportunities. i think rather than tearing the state capitol down and starting from scratch, finding ways to encourage the election and sent resists from both parties creates the opportunity for the cohesion and forward movement. >> susan kennedy are you optimistic is it going to happen? >> i'm very optimistic when we are out of this economic
situation where we are facing a chronic and insolvable budget crisis, california will be back on top and kicked around nationally just like we have always been. the question is can we -- can we solve our problems on a long-term basis. can you fix the education system? no. when you put money into an education system with this taxation and the tax structure we have now three years from now you are going to be ripping if dollars out of the program. if you don't have a tax system you can't fix it. the tax system is at the heart of the problem. it's primary reason we have a dysfunctional relationship with local government. >> so taxes -- >> that's not that hard. >> once again we have proven that we can't fix the state in a half hour. anyway. that's all the time we have. so thank you all very much for being here. good discussion and for more about broken california, please visit kqed.org/thisweek. there is coverage of this week's elections.